Are We Making Progress? New Evidence on Aboriginal Education Outcomes in Provincial and Reserve Schools

 
Are We Making Progress? New Evidence on Aboriginal Education Outcomes in Provincial and Reserve Schools
Institut            C.D. HOWE                             I n sti tute

                     commentary
                                     NO. 408

Are We Making Progress?
   New Evidence on
  Aboriginal Education
 Outcomes in Provincial
  and Reserve Schools

 Federal action is required to address the persistently low high-school completion rates
    of Canada’s First Nation children living on-reserve. Key steps include providing
       stable and transparent funding for reserve schools, and professionalizing
                               reserve school organization.

                              John Richards
Are We Making Progress? New Evidence on Aboriginal Education Outcomes in Provincial and Reserve Schools
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John Richards
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                                                . HOWE
Commentary No. 408
                                              .D
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April 2014
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$ 12.00
isbn 978-0-88806-929-0
issn 0824-8001 (print);
issn 1703-0765 (online)
The Study In Brief

This Commentary summarizes new evidence on Aboriginal education from the National Household Survey
(NHS) that accompanied the 2011 census. There is some good news: young adults aged 20-24 at the time
of the census who identified as North American Indian/First Nation and were living off-reserve, and those
who identified as Métis, had considerably lower rates of incomplete secondary studies in 2011 than at the
time of the previous census in 2006.

The good news needs to be qualified. First, the incomplete secondary studies statistic for the off-reserve
Indian/FN population is still three times the rate for young non-Aboriginals (30 percent relative to 10
percent) and the Métis rate is twice as high (20 percent relative to 10 percent). The report card for the
provincial school systems might be “making progress, need to do better.”

The second and more serious qualification is that the rate of incomplete secondary studies remains
extremely high (58 percent) for young Indian/FN living on-reserve, and has declined little since 2006.
While there is great variation in student performance among the 500 on-reserve schools across Canada,
their overall report card is “inadequate, need to make major improvements.”

National averages hide provincial variations. The six provinces from Quebec to British Columbia are home
to almost 90 percent of Canada’s Aboriginal population. In Manitoba, the incomplete rate among young
Indian/FN adults living on-reserve is 12.3 points above the national average (which is 58.0 percent); the
BC rate is 17.3 points below the national average – a 30 point range. Outcomes in British Columbia and
Ontario are uniformly better than the national average for all Aboriginal groups; in the Prairie provinces
they are generally worse. Outcomes in Quebec are mixed: worse than average for Indian/FN on-reserve,
better than average for Indian/FN off-reserve.

In 2011, the federal government launched a major initiative intended to provide a legislative framework
for organizing reserve schools and for enabling creation of reserve-based equivalents of provincial school
districts. One motivation was the persistence of consistently low on-reserve high-school completion rates.
BC’s policy innovations over the last two decades have not been a panacea, but the province’s above-
average on-reserve education outcomes are another motivation.

At time of writing (April 2014), Ottawa has tabled legislation, the First Nations Control of First Nations
Education Act (Bill C-33). The AFN has lent qualified support to the legislation; many chiefs have voiced
opposition, and the bill’s fate is uncertain. In the author’s opinion, Bill C-33 is an important legislative
advance and deserves broad Parliamentary support.

C.D. Howe Institute Commentary© is a periodic analysis of, and commentary on, current public policy issues. Michael Benedict
and James Fleming edited the manuscript; Yang Zhao prepared it for publication. As with all Institute publications, the
views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Institute’s members or Board
of Directors. Quotation with appropriate credit is permissible.

To order this publication please contact: the C.D. Howe Institute, 67 Yonge St., Suite 300, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1J8. The
full text of this publication is also available on the Institute’s website at www.cdhowe.org.
2

In an industrial society, a few individuals succeed and prosper as
adults without ever completing high school. Others consciously
choose a life with little formal education and, if lucky, nonetheless
realize middle-class incomes. For example, a resource boom
offering many well-paying, low-skill jobs may induce some to
abandon high school.

Still, members of any major community cannot                     The census does not provide the location of
expect in general to escape poverty without                   schooling, but location at the time of the census is
completing high school. To achieve what most                  a proxy – albeit far from perfect – for where young
Canadians consider a middle-class income requires             adults attended school. Young Aboriginals living
some form of post-secondary education. At present,            off-reserve (whether Indian/FN or Métis) probably
a disturbingly large share of Canadians identifying           received most of their primary and secondary
as North American Indian or First Nation (FN)                 education in schools of the relevant province. The
are neither completing high school nor achieving              increase in graduation rates for these Aboriginals
post-secondary certification in trades, colleges or           indicates that provincial education ministries are
universities. Outcomes among Métis are less dire,             taking more seriously than in past decades their
but they should not inspire complacency.                      obligation toward Aboriginal students.
   This Commentary provides an initial look at                   As I discuss in more detail later, there is
new evidence on Aboriginal education from                     considerable variation in Aboriginal education
the National Household Survey (NHS), which                    outcomes among the provinces. In general,
accompanied the 2011 census. The youngest cohort              British Columbia outcomes are superior to those
for which it is reasonable to expect completion of            elsewhere – albeit Ontario results are also well
high school was that aged 20-24 at the time of                above average. Other provinces should look closely
the census. There is some good news: young adults             at the initiatives pursued in BC over the last two
in this cohort who identified as North American               decades. In far more detail than elsewhere, BC
Indian or First Nation and were living off-reserve,           monitors Aboriginal student performance in
and those who identified as Métis, had considerably           provincial school, and annually publishes measures
lower rates of incomplete secondary studies in 2011           of Aboriginal student performance at the school
than in 2006.                                                 level. BC provides school districts with additional

   I acknowledge the enthusiastic support of Colin Busby for my writing this Commentary on Aboriginal education. Several
   internal C.D. Howe Institute analysts and anonymous external reviewers contributed valuable comments on earlier drafts.
   James Fleming and Michael Benedict undertook copy editing and preparation for publication. In the past, the author has
   provided advice to the federal government regarding Aboriginal education.
3                                                                                                         Commentary 408

funds, based on the number of Aboriginal students,                   as do provincial school districts. Here is an idea
and requires school districts to consult with local                  that should be replicated in other provinces.
Aboriginal leaders on appropriate education                          Furthermore, the regional office of Aboriginal
projects. The districts are expected to prepare                      Affairs and Northern Development Canada has
agreements specifying short-terms targets for                        played a productive role in encouraging these quasi-
improvements (in areas such as attendance, average                   school districts.
scores in mathematics and writing).
   But the good news needs to be qualified. First,                   School Performance Matters, But Does Not
the incomplete secondary studies statistic for the                   Tell Entire Story
off-reserve Indian/FN population is still three times
the comparable rate for young non-Aboriginals                        It is, of course, unfair to place the entire burden
(30 percent relative to 10 percent) and the Métis                    of low education outcomes on schools. The
rate is twice as high (20 percent relative to 10 percent).           socioeconomic conditions of children’s families
The report card for the provincial school systems                    matter; the resources available to schools matter.
might be summarized as “making progress, need                        But nor is it fair to exempt school systems from
to do better.”                                                       scrutiny. One goal of this Commentary is to analyze
   The second and more serious qualification is that                 the extent to which NHS data confirm evidence
the rate of incomplete secondary studies remains                     from the 2006 census that some provincial school
extremely high (58 percent) for young Indian/                        systems and some reserve schools are performing
FN living on-reserve and has declined little since                   substantially better than others.
2006. As mentioned above, area of residence is                           The nationwide statistics underlying Figure 1
an imperfect proxy for location of schooling but                     refer to all who identified in the census as North
probably those living on-reserve at the time of the                  American Indian or First Nation, whether or not
2011 census received much of their education in a                    they were also registered pursuant to the federal
reserve school.                                                      Indian Act. Only “registered Indians” have the right
   While there is great variation in student                         to live on-reserve. Hence, the on-reserve high-
performance among the 500 on-reserve schools                         school completion statistics refer to those registered,
across Canada, their overall report card is                          whereas the off-reserve statistics refer to all
“inadequate, need to make major improvements.”                       identifying as Indian/FN, whether registered or not.
   As with provincial schools, Aboriginal                            (See Appendix 1 for details concerning the census
performance in BC’s reserve schools is in general                    definitions of the Aboriginal population.)
better than in reserve schools elsewhere in Canada.                      Provincial and reserve schools do not exist in
Uniquely, BC reserve schools have organized                          watertight compartments. Aboriginal families,
themselves into province-wide organizations to                       both Indian/FN and Métis, are more mobile on
provide secondary services and assess performance,                   average than non-Aboriginal.1 And, typically, about
                                                                     40 percent of registered Indian children living on-

1       Based on the 2006 census (Canada 2008d), 13.9 percent of non-Aboriginals lived at a different address 12 months prior
        to the census date. Among Aboriginals, the equivalent statistic was 19.4 percent. The mobility statistics for Indian/FN
        and Métis are similar. Any change of family address probably implies a change of school for the children involved. These
        statistics do not capture interruptions in school attendance arising from family mobility within a school year.
4

    Figure 1: Share without High-School Certificate, Selected Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Identity
    Groups, Ages 20-24, 2006 and 2011

                        65                      61.1
                                                       58.0
                        60
                        55
                               48.1
                        50
                        45            40.7
                        40                                        37.8
                        35
              percent

                                                                         30.2
                        30
                                                                                       25.4
                        25
                                                                                              20.4
                        20
                        15                                                                             12.5
                                                                                                              10.1
                        10
                         5
                         0
                             North American   North American    North American          Métis        Non-Aboriginal
                              Indian-First     Indian-First      Indian-First
                                Nation,          Nation,           Nation,
                                   all          on-reserve        off-reserve

                                                               2006             2011

    Source: Canada (2008b, 2013b).

reserve are attending a provincial off-reserve school                 Cohort Profiles of
(Rajekar and Mathilakath 2009).                                       Educ ationa l At ta inment
    A final introductory observation. The incomplete
high-school rate for all young Indian/FN adults                       There is a strong link between highest education
(regardless of area of residence and whether                          and employment levels on the one hand, and
registered) declined by over 7 percentage points                      education and employment earnings on the
between 2006 and 2011. Three-quarters of this                         other. Using NHS results, Figure 2 illustrates the
decline can be attributed to changes in incomplete                    relationship between highest education level and
rates for two groups, on- and off-reserve, weighted                   employment rates among Indian/FN, Métis and
by their share of the 2006 Indian/FN total. One-                      non-Aboriginals. The rate within each identity
quarter of the improvement can be attributed to                       group is below 40 percent for those lacking high-
a decline in the share of young Indian/FN adults                      school certification. Within each of the three
living on-reserve.2                                                   identity groups, completing high school (while

2    The share of young adults aged 20-24 who identified as Indian/FN (whether or not they were also registered) and were
     living on-reserve declined from 44.2 percent in 2006 to 37.9 percent in 2011 (Canada 2008b, 2013b).
5                                                                                                                        Commentary 408

    Figure 2: Employment Rates, Selected Identity Groups, by Highest Education Level, 2011

                           90

                           80

                           70

                           60

                           50
                 percent

                           40

                           30

                           20

                           10

                            0
                                No high-school    With high-school   With high-school        With high-school       With high-school
                                diploma, no       diploma, no        diploma, with           diploma, with college, diploma, with
                                post-secondary    post-secondary     apprenticeship or       CEGEP or other         Bachelor’s degree
                                certificate       certificate        trades certificate      non-university
                                                                                             certificate

                                         North American Indian/First Nation               Métis          Non-Aboriginal

    Note: Employment rates in Figure 2 and median earnings in Figure 3 refer to all individuals within an identity group
    ages 15 and over.
    Source: Canada (2013b).

pursuing no further formal education) increases the                     is roughly 80 percent of the corresponding non-
group employment rate by more than 25 percentage                        Aboriginal median; the Métis median is roughly
points. At higher education levels, employment                          90 percent (Figure 3).3 The gaps may reflect, in part,
rates for all identity groups continue to rise. Worth                   discrimination in wages paid.4
noting is that, at each education level, the Métis                          NHS results from four age cohorts – ranging
employment rate is the highest.                                         from ages 20-24 to 45 and over – profile by age
   2010 median employment income among                                  those without high school or other post-secondary
identity groups show that, at each of the three                         certification (Figure 4a). Those in the oldest cohort
highest education levels, the Indian/FN median                          illustrated were born prior to 1965, and all but a few

3       The statistics are calculated for all who reported at least some employment earnings.
4       However, the gaps may also reflect factors other than discrimination: for example, average weekly Aboriginal hours worked
        were lower than for non-Aboriginals.
6

 Figure 3: Median Annual Employment Income, Selected Identity Groups, by Highest Education
 Level, 2010

                     40,000

                     35,000

                     30,000

                     25,000
           dollars

                     20,000

                     15,000

                     10,000

                      5,000

                         0
                              No high-school diploma,         With high-school diploma,       With high-school diploma,
                              no post-secondary certificate   no post-secondary certificate   with post-secondary trades
                                                                                              certificate, diploma or degree

                                      North American Indian/First Nation              Métis     Non-Aboriginal

 Source: Canada (2013c).

in this cohort can be expected to have completed                     in high-school completion among younger
high school (if they did complete) before 1980.                      Canadians overall.
Even within the non-Aboriginal population, more                         As with Métis and non-Aboriginals, the rates for
than one in five (21.6 percent) of those in the oldest               Indian/FN who do not complete high school are
cohort did not graduate. Among the three younger                     about 10 percentage points lower for those aged 35-
non-Aboriginal cohorts, the did-not-complete                         44 than for those aged 45 and older. The on-reserve
statistic is under 10 percent, demonstrating that, for               Indian/FN is the only group for which the high-
working-age Canadian adults, near-universal high-                    school incomplete rate among young adults aged
school completion has become the norm.                               20-24 exceeds that for the 45-and-older cohort. The
   Among Métis, a similar inter-cohort profile                       older cohort encompasses no doubt a majority of
exists, albeit it lies above that for non-Aboriginals.               the parents of the younger cohort.
The gap between the two profiles is roughly                             Meanwhile, some convergence in outcomes
10 percentage points for all age cohorts (Figure                     between the three Indian/FN cohorts and non-
4b). As measured by this gap, Métis high-school                      Aboriginals is taking place between ages 25 and 44.
completion, while not converging on that for                         Based on the profile for all Indian/FN, about
non-Aboriginals, has kept pace with the rise                         60 percent in the 20-24 cohort have completed
7                                                                                                                Commentary 408

    Figure 4A: Share without High-School Certificate, Selected Aboriginal Identity Groups and Non-
    Aboriginals, by Selected Age Cohorts, 2011

                           60       58.0

                                                                                                              52.3
                                                           49.4
                           50
                                                                                    43.6
                                    40.7                                                                      39.9
                           40
                                                           33.7
                                                                                                              33.2
                                    30.2                                            29.7
                 percent

                           30
                                                           24.8                                               29.8
                                                                                    22.0
                           20
                                    20.4                                                                      21.6
                                                           16.3                     17.4

                           10
                                    10.1                                            9.1
                                                           8.4

                           0
                                 ages 20-24              ages 25-34               ages 35-44             ages 45 and over

                                                     North American Indian - First Nation, on-reserve
                                                     North American Indian - First Nation, all
                                                     North American Indian - First Nation, off-reserve
                                                     Métis
                                                     Non-Aboriginal

    Source: Canada (2013b).

high school; among the 35-44 cohort, some 70                              True, high school is a low rung on the education
have done so.5                                                         ladder. For the majority in a community to
   The implications of all this is clear: to reduce                    achieve what most Canadians consider middle-
Aboriginal poverty, a higher employment rate is                        class incomes requires that the majority achieve
crucial. And to realize a higher employment rate                       some form of post-secondary education – a trades
requires, at a minimum, near-universal high-school                     certification, college diploma or university degree.
completion.

5       The incomplete high-school rate for all Indian/FN in the age 20-24 cohort is 40.7 percent. This statistic declines to
        29.7 percent for the age 35-44 cohort.
8

    Figure 4B: Share without High-School Certificate, Aboriginal Gaps Relative to Non-Aboriginals, by
    Selected Age Cohorts, 2011

                                  50

                                  45    47.8

                                  40
                                                          41.0

                                  35
                                        30.6                                       34.5
              percentage points

                                  30
                                                                                                            30.7
                                                          25.3
                                  25
                                        20.0                                       20.6
                                  20                                                                        18.3
                                                          16.4
                                  15                                               12.9
                                                                                                            11.5
                                  10
                                        10.3
                                                          7.9                      8.3                      8.1
                                  5

                                  0
                                       ages 20-24       ages 25-34              ages 35-44              ages 45 and over

                                                    North American Indian - First Nation, on-reserve
                                                    North American Indian - First Nation, all
                                                    North American Indian - First Nation, off-reserve
                                                    Métis

    Source: Author’s calculations from Canada (2013b).

  The non-Aboriginal profile in Figure 5 illustrates                 identical for the 25-35 and 35-44 cohorts. On the
two features of post-secondary education among                       assumption that education progression for non-
non-Aboriginal Canadians. First is the much higher                   Aboriginal cohorts has become relatively stable,
post-secondary education rate among the age 25-44                    the census implies that those who do realize post-
cohorts relative to those aged 45 and older. Second,                 secondary certification are doing so by age 35.6
post-secondary educational attainment is nearly

6    Those aged 35-44 in the 2011 census were 25-34 at the time of the 2001 census. On the assumption this cohort’s post-
     secondary education (PSE) between ages 25-34 was similar to that of the younger cohort aged 25-34 in 2011, then
     significant PSE training after age 35 should be reflected in a higher aged 35-44 profile than the census revealed.
9                                                                                                    Commentary 408

 Figure 5: Share with Trades Certificate, College Diploma or University Degree, Selected Aboriginal
 Identity Groups and Non-Aboriginals, by Selected Age Cohorts, 2011

                     70
                                                68.6                   68.3
                     60
                                                                       54.5
                                                51.8
                                                                                                50.0
                     50                                                48.6
                            46.4
                                                42.6                                            41.4
                     40
                                                                       41.6
           percent

                                                                                                   39.1
                            31.1
                     30                         34.4                                            34.5
                            23.3                                       28.8
                                                                                                25.8
                     20
                                                20.1
                            17.9
                     10
                            9.0
                     0
                           ages 20-24       ages 25-34              ages 35-44              ages 45 and over

                                        Non-Aboriginal
                                        Métis
                                        North American Indian - First Nation, off-reserve
                                        North American Indian - First Nation, all
                                        North American Indian - First Nation, on-reserve

 Source: Canada (2013b).

   The Métis and off-reserve Indian/FN education         on-reserve, is delayed relative to those in the other
profiles in Figure 5 are obviously below that for        identity groups.
non-Aboriginals. Unlike the non-Aboriginal profile,
there is also some incremental acquisition of post-      Inter prov inci a l Va r i ation
secondary training by those in the age 35-44 cohort      in High-School Completion
relative to those aged 25-34.                            R ates a nd Distr ibution of
   The differences between the non-Aboriginal            A bor igina l Popul ation
and on-reserve Indian/FN profiles are more
pronounced. Post-secondary certification in the age      Figure 1 illustrates, at the national level, rates
20-24 on-reserve cohort (9 percent) is very low,         for young adults who have not completed high
and is less than one-third of the maximum, realized      school, by five identity groups. National averages
among mature adults, those aged 35-44                    hide some large provincial differences. For the six
(28.8 percent). Acquisition of post-secondary            provinces from Quebec to British Columbia –
training, to the extent it occurs among those living     home to almost 90 percent of Canada’s Aboriginal
10

 Figure 6: Provincial Deviations from Respective Canadian Average Identity Group Share with Neither
 High-School nor Post-Secondary Certificate, Ages 20-24, by Selected Provinces, 2011

                                20
                                                                                                     16.7
                                15
                                                                                                        12.3
                                                                 8.4                                       10.0
                                10                           8.2    8.4 7.6       8.5   8.5                                                         8.0

                                 5                                                          3.4                                                                3.8
            percentage points

                                                                           1.9                                                                2.4
                                                                                      0.0     1.0                 0.1
                                 0
                                                                                                                                       -1.9
                                                 -1.9 -2.9                                                  -2.2                                             -2.8
                                -5                                                                                               -3.1 -4.2
                                             -4.8
                                                                                                                               -6.9
                                                                                                                        -8.0                          -8.3
                            -10
                                     -10.7
                            -15

                                         -17.3
                            -20
                                     British Columbia            Alberta          Saskatchewan         Manitoba                Ontario               Quebec

                                                                              North American Indian - First Nation, all
                                                                              North American Indian - First Nation, on-reserve
                                                                              North American Indian - First Nation, off-reserve
                                                                              Métis
                                                                              Non-Aboriginal

 Source: Author’s calculations from Canada (2013b).

population – provincial deviations from the relevant                                                  The Métis interprovincial range is much smaller,
national averages, at ages 20-24 highlight important                                              slightly less than 12 points. The Alberta rate for
information (Figure 6). (Negative deviations imply                                                Métis who lack a high-school graduation certificate
superior performance relative to the national                                                     is 7.6 points above the national average; the Ontario
average, while positive deviations suggest inferior                                               average is 4.2 points below it.
outcomes.)                                                                                            Outcomes in British Columbia and Ontario are
   The largest interprovincial range is within the                                                uniformly better than the national average for all
on-reserve Indian/FN population, at nearly                                                        five identity groups; in the Prairie provinces they are
30 percentage points. In Manitoba, the incomplete                                                 generally worse. Outcomes in Quebec are mixed:
rate is 12.3 points above the national average                                                    worse than average for Indian/FN on-reserve, better
(58.0 percent); the BC rate is 17.3 points below the                                              than average for Indian/FN off-reserve.
national average.
11                                                                                                                                                   Commentary 408

 Figure 7: Aboriginal Share of Population by Selected Age Cohorts, Canada, Selected Provinces and
 Regions, 2011

                     30                                                29.4             29.5

                                                                          26.3             26.6

                     25

                     20

                                                                                                  16.7
                                                                                 15.6
           percent

                     15                                                                        14.1      14.1
                                                                              12.8                              13.5

                                                9.7 9.9
                     10   9.0 8.9
                                                                                                                        8.0
                                                                                                                                              7.3
                                                                                                                  6.8                               6.9
                                                                6.2
                                          5.4             5.3
                                    4.7
                      5                                                                                                       4.0 3.9                       4.3
                                                                                                                                                      3.7
                                                                                                                                    2.4 2.6

                      0
                           British                Alberta             Saskatchewan      Manitoba          Western              Rest of            Canada
                          Columbia                                                                        Canada               Canada

                                                ages 0 - 4                ages 5 - 14             ages 15 and over              total, all ages

 Source: Canada (2013a).

Aboriginal Population Highly Concentrated in                                               cohorts (ages 5-14 in 2011). The Aboriginal
Prairie Provinces                                                                          share for this cohort east of Manitoba was only
                                                                                           4 percent in 2011. It was 14 percent in the four
Canadians living east of Manitoba might be                                                 western provinces combined; in Manitoba and
excused for thinking poor Aboriginal education                                             Saskatchewan, it was 26 percent. .
outcomes is a social problem that affects only a                                              As post-Second World War babyboomers reach
small minority. Aboriginals constituted less than                                          age 65 over the next two decades, the population
3 percent of the east-of-Manitoba population at                                            share in the active labour market age cohort
the time of the 2011 census (see Figure 7). But in                                         (ages 18-64) will inevitably decline. This trend
the four western provinces, home to 58 percent of                                          accentuates the importance of Aboriginal youth,
the Aboriginal population, there are compelling                                            especially Indian/FN youth, achieving higher
arguments that continuation for another generation                                         education levels and employment rates than
with weak Aboriginal education outcomes will                                               their parents.
adversely affect everyone in the region.                                                      The pursuit of better Aboriginal education
    In projecting future regional prospects, what                                          outcomes is more than a matter of economic
is relevant is the Aboriginal share of school age
12

productivity; it should also be seen as an appropriate          employment rates (see Appendix 2). Analysis of
societal response to the aspirations of many                    the data shows that a 10 percentage-point increase
Aboriginal families. Young Aboriginals are “going               in a regional Aboriginal employment rate boosts
to town” in search of better education opportunities            projected regional high-school completion among
for themselves and their families. This is the case             those ages 20-24 by 5 percentage points. The
even among “registered Indians” who have the right              gap between actual and projected high-school
to live on-reserve.7 An ambitious survey of 2,500               incomplete rates for an individual province is
urban Aboriginals, conducted by The Environics                  indirect evidence of superior and inferior school
Institute in 11 Canadian cities in 2009, provides               performance.
evidence that the weak performance of on-reserve                   The simple analysis discussed in Appendix 2
schools is an important reason for the increase                 and the deviations discussion above are broadly
in the off-reserve population (Environics 2010).                consistent: BC on-reserve high-school incomplete
Among participants in the survey who were first-                rates are dramatically lower than in the five other
generation urban Aboriginals and who identified as              provinces under review and BC Aboriginal results
Indian/FN (as opposed to Métis or Inuit), the most              off-reserve are in general also better than elsewhere.
important reason given for migrating to their city              Precisely why British Columbia is doing better
was access to education, followed closely by a desire           than other provinces is not clear, but there are four
to be closer to family members in the city and                  differences – in degree, if not in kind – between it
employment opportunities.8                                      and the five other provinces.
                                                                   For Aboriginals attending provincial schools, the
Wh y is Br itish Columbi a Best?                                BC education ministry has for over two decades
                                                                provided school districts additional funds based on
This Commentary has used recently released                      their numbers of Aboriginal students. In return,
NHS results to emphasize the links, first between               the districts are to prepare Aboriginal education
education and employment, and second between                    enhancement agreements in consultation with local
education and expected earnings. It has not                     Aboriginal education leaders. The intent is that
attempted to explain why Aboriginal education                   districts use their incremental funds for Aboriginal
levels are disturbingly low in many provinces and               education projects, and that the agreements define
are (somewhat) better in British Columbia.                      proximate goals such as targets in future provincial
   A simple statistical exercise, undertaken in a               Aboriginal test scores or attendance rates.
previous Commentary (Richards 2013), assesses                      Furthermore, relative to other provinces, the BC
the incremental impact of better socioeconomic                  education ministry has a much stronger tradition of
conditions, proxied by regional Aboriginal                      publishing detailed Aboriginal student performance

7   The proportion of young adult registered Indians living on-reserve declined between the last two censuses. In 2006,
    48.2 percent of those aged 20-24 lived on-reserve; in 2011, the share was 45.2 percent (Canada 2008a, 2013a). The trend in
    on-reserve statistics is probably accurate, but the on-reserve share may be underestimated in both censuses due to
    incompletely enumerated reserve populations. Based on previous Statistics Canada adjustments for incomplete
    enumeration, the on-reserve share of the 2011 “registered Indian” population was probably close to 50 percent.
8   The survey asked, “What is the most important reason why you first moved to your city?” Pursuit of education for
    themselves or family members was cited by 43 percent, followed closely by a desire to be closer to family members in the
    city and employment opportunities (Environics 2010, 32).
13                                                                                          Commentary 408

statistics, disaggregated to the school level. What is      At time of writing (April 2014), the federal
measured is more likely to improve than what is not.     government has tabled legislation, the First Nations
   As well, BC reserve schools have organized            Control of First Nations Education Act (Bill C-33).
themselves into province-wide agencies to provide        The AFN has lent qualified support to the legislation;
secondary services and assess reserve school             many chiefs have voiced opposition, and the fate of
performance in reading, arithmetic and other             Bill C-33 is uncertain (Mas 2014). In my opinion,
basic metrics. These agencies help set goals in core     Bill C-33 deserves broad Parliamentary support.
academic subjects (reading, science, mathematics)           One purpose of Bill C-33 is to assure a more
as well as objectives for cultural education             stable and transparent basis for funding reserve
(Richards 2013). Arguably, the regional office of        schools, by legislating the principle that per student
the federal Aboriginal Affairs department has            funding be at a level comparable to similarly
played a productive role in encouraging formation        situated provincial schools. But money alone will
of province-wide organizations, such as the First        not bring improvements. Legitimately, a second
Nations Schools Association and the First Nations        purpose of Bill C-33 is to professionalize reserve
Education Steering Committee.                            school organization and to enable creation of
                                                         reserve equivalents of provincial school districts.
Conclusion                                                  Finally, Bill C-33 has a symbolic importance.
                                                         While it affirms First Nation control of primary
In 2011, the federal government launched a               and secondary education, it implicitly acknowledges
major initiative intended to provide a legislative       that Parliament cannot abandon its responsibility
framework for organizing reserve schools and for         to legislate so that Indian/FN children enjoy better
enabling creation of reserve-based equivalents           options for a decent education.
of school districts in provincial systems. One
motivation was the persistence over many censuses
of consistently low high-school completion rates
on-reserve. While BC’s policy innovations over
the last two decades have not been a panacea, the
province’s above-average on-reserve education
outcomes were another motivation. Initially, the
initiative enjoyed support from the Assembly of
First Nations (AFN). However, many of the chiefs
have been sceptical of the government’s intention.
They have emphasized the case for additional
funding and minimized the case for professional
school organization.
14

A ppendi x 1: Defining the A bor igina l Popul ation

As with all identity issues, choice of defining criteria is debatable. The Canadian census defines the
Aboriginal population in several ways. One is Aboriginal ancestry. The most widely used is based on
self-identification. Individuals can self-identify as belonging to one of three Aboriginal groups: (i) North
American Indian/First Nation (Mohawk, Ojibwa, Cree and so on); (ii) Métis (descendants of communities
formed from the intermarriage of Indians and coureurs de bois engaged in the fur trade); or (iii) Arctic Inuit.
Self-identification as an Aboriginal does not necessarily mean an individual has Aboriginal ancestry.
   Another census definition is based on an individual indicating that he or she is a “registered Indian”
under provisions of the Indian Act, a Canadian statute dating from the late 19th century. The great majority
of those who self-identify as Indian/First Nation are also registered Indians. Only registered Indians
have the right to live on designated reserve lands and receive the associated benefits. The census defines
the Aboriginal population as those who self-identify as Aboriginal or indicate that they are “registered
Indians.”
   Most of the statistics discussed in this Commentary are from the National Household Survey
(NHS) that accompanied the 2011 census. The census is by far the most important source of consistent
information about Aboriginal social conditions across Canada. For many decades up to and including
2006, the census included a 20 percent random sample required to complete the “long-form” questionnaire.
Since participation was mandatory among those selected, the reported results on many social conditions
among Canadians were as accurate as a census could provide.
   For the 2011 census, the government made the controversial decision to abolish mandatory
participation in a long-form and substituted voluntary participation in a larger 35-percent sample, the
source for that year’s NHS data. While the sample was larger, those who rely on census Aboriginal data
have expressed serious concerns about bias. Those Aboriginals who chose not to respond may well have
been poorer, less educated and more alienated from mainstream Canada than one would conclude from a
representative sample.
   A final caveat on the census is that the data are self-reported. This results in somewhat higher estimates
of education levels than one would conclude from administrative data.
   Based on the NHS, the Canadian Aboriginal identity population in 2011 was 1,401,000. Of the total,
852,000 (61 percent) identified as North American Indian/First Nation, 452,000 (32 percent) as Métis
and 59,000 (4 percent) as Inuit. The remainder designated multiple identities. The registered Indian
population comprised 697,510 (82 percent of the Indian/FN identity population).
15                                                                                                     Commentary 408

A ppendix 2: Expl aining Inter provinci al Var i ation in High-School
Incomplete R ates

Throughout, this Commentary attributes education outcomes to two factors. The first is cultural differences
– including the potential for discrimination – between non-Aboriginals on the one hand and the two
Aboriginal groups, Métis and Indian/FN.
   The second factor is the quality of six provincial school systems, Quebec to British Columbia, and the
average quality, within each of these six provinces, of on-reserve schools. While these two sets of variables
are relevant, it is important to introduce a third set, socioeconomic characteristics (such as parental
education and income) that bear on children’s academic performance.
   How important is each of the three sets of factors? The ideal answer requires a sophisticated regression
analysis on a large national sample of young adults, identifying all relevant factors for each individual. This
Appendix does not attempt such an exercise. Instead, it presents a simple analysis based on 18 Indian/FN
subgroups defined from tabulated 2006 census data, three for each of the six provinces from Quebec to
British Columbia:
     •   an on-reserve subgroup, one for each province;
     •   an off-reserve subgroup living in a census metropolitan area (CMA) within a province; and
     •   an off-reserve subgroup living in a rural or urban non-CMA community within a province.
In the discussion here, the average employment rate for all subgroup members (ages 15 and over) serves
as a proxy for the socioeconomic family variables likely to bear on children’s education outcomes.9 The
scatterplot in Figure A2.1 illustrates the 18 Indian/FN education outcomes and associated average
employment rates.
   Incidentally, the range of variation in employment and high-school completion rates among analogously
defined subgroups for Métis (not shown) is much smaller than for Indian/FN subgroups. The relatively
small variation in Métis employment rates has no statistical significance in explaining variation in Métis
high-school completion rates.
   The Figure A2.1 trendlines illustrate the result arising from a regression of incomplete high-school
rates for the 18 subgroups on the relevant average employment rate for each subgroup, along with an index
variable to identify on-reserve observations.10 The rationale for including the index is to accommodate the
difficulties of on-reserve schools graduating their students in the context of their isolation and small size.
We would expect a statistically significant negative relationship between a subgroup’s overall employment
rate and its incomplete high-school rate among young adults. We would also expect that, for a given

9  The employment rate is a reasonable proxy for income and education. It is highly dependent on completion of K-12,
   and average incomes are in turn highly dependent on presence of employment earnings. See Sharpe et al. (2009) for a
   decomposition of the relative importance of socioeconomic and family characteristics in determining Aboriginal incomes.
10 For the 18 Indian/FN subgroups, the regression result is y = 66.9 – 0.51x1 + 14.7x2 where y is the projected incomplete
   high-school rate, x1 is the employment rate and x2 is the index designating a reserve location. The adjusted R2 is 0.67. The
   employment rate is significant at 5 percent one-tail, the on-reserve index at 1 percent one-tail. The regression could be re-
   specified to add an index distinguishing CMA from rural/urban, non-CMA Indian/FN subgroups. Such an index has the
   appropriate sign (implying higher rural than CMA incomplete rates) but is insignificant. The small number of observations
   means the trend lines are indicative only.
16

 Figure A2.1: High-School Incomplete Rates of Young Indian/First Nation Adults, Selected
 Subgroups, Ages 20-24, by Employment Rate of All Members of Identity Subgroup, 2006

                                                   75
                                                   70
           High-school incomplete rate (percent)

                                                   65
                                                   60
                                                   55
                                                   50
                                                   45
                                                   40
                                                   35
                                                   30
                                                   25
                                                        30   35   40             45            50              55   60   65
                                                                            Employment rate (percent)

                                                                  BC      AB      SA     MB      ON       QC
                                                                       Trendline: Indian/FN on-reserve
                                                                       Trendline: Indian/FN off-reserve

 Source: Canada (2008b, 2008c).

employment rate, the incomplete rate would be higher for on-reserve subgroups. Such are, indeed, the
results of the regression.
   Several observations are worth noting. The employment rate range is large, indicating considerable
interprovincial variation in average prosperity and projected education levels of the subgroups. For the
Manitoba and Saskatchewan on-reserve subgroups, the employment rate is close to 30 percent. For three
off-reserve subgroups, one in Ontario and two in Alberta, the employment rate exceeds 60 percent.
   If we project expected high-school incomplete rates in terms of this simple regression, we can interpret
deviations from projected outcomes as a measure of the performance of provincial school systems and of
average quality of reserve schools in the relevant province. A positive deviation implies the actual high-
school incomplete rate is higher than projected and the relevant school system is underperforming relative
to expectation; a negative deviation implies superior performance.
   Adjusting for socioeconomic conditions using 2006 data does not alter the basic ranking of provincial
school systems reported in this Commentary, based on 2011 data. The incomplete rates are lowest in
British Columbia, highest in the Prairie provinces. The on-reserve subgroup observations fit the trend line
reasonably well – except for British Columbia, where the on-reserve high-school incomplete rate
(46.9 percent) is 13 points below the trend line projection. While the deviations from trend for the two
BC off-reserve subgroups are smaller, both also lie below the trend line.
By contrast, the on-reserve Manitoba high-school incomplete rate (72 percent) lies 6.4 points above the
trend line. The incomplete rates for the two Manitoba off-reserve subgroups also lie well above trend and
are higher than the BC on-reserve incomplete high-school rate.
   The employment rate may well incorporate factors beyond parental socioeconomic status. The large
positive deviations of Alberta off-reserve incomplete rates may reflect the relative quality of Aboriginal
education in the province; they may also reflect a below-average demand for high-school certification due
to a provincial resource boom and a correspondingly high market demand for workers, including those
with low education levels.
   Aggregating data into the 18 subgroups and assessing family socioeconomic characteristics in terms of
employment rates is admittedly a “back-of-the-envelope” exercise. But if we accept the employment rate
as a proxy for socioeconomic characteristics among Indian/FN subgroups, the characteristics explain a
good deal of the interprovincial variation in incomplete high-school rates – but certainly do not negate the
conclusion that the quality of provincial school systems also matters.
18

R efer ences

Assembly of First Nations and Aboriginal Affairs and      ––––––. 2013b. “Secondary (High) School Diploma or
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Notes:
Notes:
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